Chronic pain and disease. Words of encouragement.

Some of my friends and family have suffered from chronic pain and disease. I wanted to offer some hope for those that are afflicted. My story. 2 1/2 years ago when I returned from volunteering in Guatemala I was hit with a very unusual and inexplicable head rushing. Major neck pain. Ulnar neuropathy. Knee pain as I’ve mentioned. Horrible fatigue. Arthritis in both thumbs. Depression. It all hit over 3 months. In October of 2015 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease (even though I had two negative tests) as I had been bitten many times by ticks and my symptoms presented themselves as classic Lyme. I was started on what ended up being a full year of heavy antibiotics (doxycycline) and other antibiotics, probiotics and supplements. I took north of 60 pills a day. I tried every practitioner imaginable. Acupuncture. Chinese medicine. CT scans. MRIs. Counseling. Body work. Rolfing. Meditation. Just sitting on my ass.

About August of last year I hurt my back so badly that I went to the ER and spent a week in bed and on painkillers. I was planning on quitting my job and traveling Italy with my best friends Joe and Jenny and my god daughter Elena. All was put on hold. I was really in crisis with no where to go.

I stayed positive with the support of friends and family. I examined auto immune clinics etc. Once I hurt my back I went radical and did 26 days (of a normally 12 day) elimination diet. Just to get a baseline.

I learned tons about my body, our food systems, and the lack of nutritional knowledge in mainstream medicine.

I got to see what it was like to be in our health care system. Spent over $40,000 out of pocket but felt lucky I had health insurance, a job, and no dependents. Not sure I would have survived.

When I went on the Elimination diet I (correctly) determined I didn’t have Lyme. I stopped the Antibiotics. Some of my friends are not as fortunate and still battling Lyme. It’s a very controversial diagnosis. Once you are diagnosed, it’s like a red letter on your charts. No one wants to see you.

The reason I’m writing all of this is to give folks in that space some hope. A year ago I had hand surgery, a PRP injection in my knee (another controversial procedure) and was basically told “over 50, you’re knees have no hope.” After the surgery and PRP, it was November, I could do nothing. Rock bottom. I canceled South America and again didn’t quit my job! Haha.

I went to Baja to repair. And did. I also met Pandora right before and, as I mentioned, she helped me figure the last nagging piece. My knee.

So as i continue on the second half of this incredible trip up to Everest Base Camp, just remember one thing. Do NOT think practitioners know it all. Seek help. Seek support from WHOMEVER you can. Reach out to me. Politic for a sane and fair health care system for all. And do not give up. Your body, with the right care and nutrition, has the ability to heal itself. And I am so grateful for every single person that has helped me. I attacked each affliction individually and won most of the battles. I’m living proof you can do it. Never on a million year, even as recently as four months ago, did I comprehend I could pull this off.

And the next two weeks will blow your mind if you haven’t been up here. Hope my pics do it justice!

Namaste!

Holy shit the Khumbu!!

Day 7 is in the books and I feel like I’m on some sort of Human Growth Hormone. Waiting for something to snap!

My body feels so good. On hour 8 today, the approximately 5000 feet of descent and 5000 feet of climbing were having me feel it a bit. But still, my body feels BETTER than before. I don’t get it. And I’m not complaining.

The villages and climbs are becoming more familiar but I get the views this time I missed last two times!

x

I’ve crossed over into the Solu Khumbu or Everest region and tonight will be the last night of no craziness. I shall encounter the masses seeking Everest. Or Sagarmartha as they call it here. I have seen a total of three trekkers. Crossed three very steep but relatively low (11000 feet plus) passes as the Himalayas go. But the climbs have been epic from river valleys to passes. I’ve made up some time and might shave a day off so I can spend more time up high next week. We will see.

I stayed in this place 22 years ago! I remember!

I can’t really say the places have changed very much. I can say in general the folks in the villages aren’t quite as friendly or hospitable as I remember. Now it’s a small sample size. It could be their fatigue of trekkers, just bad luck (I mean only like 50 to 100 solo trekkers come thru here without a guide each year I was told. 50,000 visit the Everest region!) Logically it’s just me. The bar has been set so high over the years with these wonderful Nepalese people that I just expect a super close connection and spiritual experience each time. Yeah. Spoiled. But the less they have the nicer they are it seems.

I can honestly say it’s pretty bare bones with creature comforts. I mean, I can’t even find Center Fruit gum the last few days Chhimi! WTF?

I did have my first beer tonight. It cost $6.50. They had to cart it up on some poor dudes back. I rarely drink up here as the bottles stay up here.

I had a crazy moment today as I humped it up the last 30 minutes of my trek. It was hot. I was tired. A tad whiny. Wearing my chacos as the downhill had started to fry my feet. In front of me was this enormous stack of grass/hay/something they use here. Slowly moving up the trail. Should have gotten a pic. I could barely make out a pair of woolen slipper-like shoes gingerly shuffling beneath the stack and climbing the hot, dusty hill.

As i caught up to it, the haystack slowly shifted clockwise so I could see the person who was carrying this stack bigger than themselves ( not uncommon here).

It turns out it was about a seventy year old woman hauling this huge stack of whatever up the hot hillside. There was a enough room to pass, I slid by, said Namaste, she smiled and responded in kind.

My heart melted.

A beautiful sunset capped the night as I discussed our juvenile president with a really nice German couple sharing my tea house. I’m in Sherpa country.

Day 5. Taking it easy

For some reason this original didn’t post. So I won’t go too deep into the details, but the love of my life, Pandora, is a physical therapist. I have had so many people look at my knee over the last two and half years, including surgery. Pandora finally said “let me look at it.” “Your left gluts are weak.” With her help and confidence, I just completed five brutal days in the foothills of the Himalayas. For the last two years, I thought I was done. Inexplicable pain and swelling. 5 backpacking trips in 2.5 years and four of them were this summer after she helped me. I had accepted I could do this no more. Her help and support gave me the confidence to take this on. That’s right. So many amazing people tried to help me. But, I’m here because of her. It’s ironic. And I miss her.

I am retracing steps I took in 1995 (solo) and 2000 (with a friend) hiking a little used route to the Everest region (solo khumbu). It crosses three river valleys and three passes of about 11000 feet before I hit the kumbu. The hard part is you go from river valley to pass and back down again. It’s crushing. It’s old Nepal.

First two times the weather was not stellar. Nor the views. This time! Sweet! So clear!

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I’ve done the Everest trek 2 times. (Hopefully three). There is no comparison. The altitude makes it stickier up there but it’s a tourist Hiway with many creature comforts. And the trails are good. I tell you this not to toot my own horn or disparage those who do the Everest trek, but to simply draw a comparison for you. Alright maybe a little ego. Remember, these routes are here for communities to move goods and services around. Not to indulge us with recreation. Until Everest.

So starting off along the Arun Valley (I thank the late Dave Allderdice in 1995 for pulling a salesman on me and convincing me to do the Sun Kosi river trip, have my pack sent with the pickup bus and commence the trek from the end of the river. Changed my life.) Trekking snob is born!

Day 1 was short and hot. I stopped early. I was tired. But so happy to be the only trekker in a village of locals. Using my 20 words of Nepalese I secured a bed and food. Dal bhat. Rice. Lentils. Some veggie. Now that has been my food for 5 days. There is nothing else but tea, an occasional egg, and instant Wai wai soup masterfully blended with said veggies. Over and over. Tonight there might be a “menu”. I can’t wait.

As I mentioned, the kitchens are rustic, basically an open fire. The squat toilets make it a challenge with sore knee if you’re not locked and loaded so to speak. I’ve mastered the half squat. Desperate times.

Strangely, I don’t remember much of the trek from before (except for yesterday’s crushing uphill) and not surprisingly, the locals both can’t understand me nor do they care.

“I come here seventeen years ago.” “You trek seventeen days?” “No, i come HERE (with the accompanied finger pointing). “Seventeen hours from Tumlingtar?” Forget it. “Yes” I nod, and move on. No one really cares.

A day consists of a series of 25 min of walking and 5 of resting. For 6-8 hours. The heat hurts me (as do the hills) but with a full belly of Dal bhat I sail up the mountain (well not exactly) until I hit empty.

The trail is cut into ancient stone steps. Forcing you to pay attention or fall on your hands. If going downhill and you fall, it’s a trip ender for sure.

The majority so far are like this massive stair master soaring into the heavens! Making you pant, curse and be in ecstasy all at once. The hike times get shorter and the breaks longer as I get higher. Thank god for Biskoots (cookies or cracker) to get me over the hump. Exhausted and struggling to find the pass yesterday, a bag of biskoot, a few calming breaths, a look at the map, and common sense got me back on track. The old woman in the tea shack (likely my age) saved me with her Wai wai and a coke.

The day ends around 2 or three. Depending on what’s in front of me as the villages are anywhere from 30 min to three hours apart. Caught between them is a no no.

My night consists of a little journaling. Some Advil. A Percocet. Dal bhat and usually an extremely hard sleeping surface. I can safely say my body feels better than last time (lighter pack. Better mental preparation?) Ask me tomorrow about that one.

So yesterday and today were the testers. High steep climb. High steep descent. If I wake up in one piece, I am rewarded with having to climb Surke La (that’s the good decision I referred to). I am in the town of Bung and was determined to hike a few more hours up to break it up. Stay at the monastery. Everyone was telling me 2-3 hours. It was hot. I was fried. There is wifi. Likely beer. My first real town. I’ve stayed here before. Last time (actually last two times) I shit in a pig pen. Progress. The other towns were simply a house and store and kitchen. And ive had no real contact with outside world. It’s market day here. Should be interesting.

My goal is Namche Bazaar. Retool. Reset. Check weather. Check body. If all good, race up the Everest valley. Gokyo Ri the second goal. But winter is coming …..

Day 5. A smart decision

So I won’t go too deep into the details, but the love of my life, Pandora, is a physical therapist. I have had so many people look at my knee over the last two and half years, including surgery. Pandora finally said “let me look at it.” “Your left gluts are weak.” With her help and confidence, I just completed five brutal days in the foothills of the Himalayas. For the last two years, I thought I was done. Inexplicable pain and swelling. 5 backpacking trips in 2.5 years and four of them were this summer after she helped me. I had accepted I could do this no more. Her help and support gave me the confidence to take this on. That’s right. So many amazing people tried to help me. But, I’m here because of her. It’s ironic. And I miss her.

I am retracing steps I took in 1995 (solo) and 2000 (with a friend) hiking a little used route to the Everest region (solo khumbu). It crosses three river valleys and three passes of about 11000 feet before I hit the kumbu. The hard part is you go from river valley to pass and back down again. It’s crushing. It’s old Nepal.

First two times the weather was not stellar. Nor the views. This time! Sweet! So clear!

placeholder://

I’ve done the Everest trek 2 times. (Hopefully three). There is no comparison. The altitude makes it stickier up there but it’s a tourist Hiway with many creature comforts. And the trails are good. I tell you this not to toot my own horn or disparage those who do the Everest trek, but to simply draw a comparison for you. Alright maybe a little ego. Remember, these routes are here for communities to move goods and services around. Not to indulge us with recreation. Until Everest.

So starting off along the Arun Valley (I thank the late Dave Allderdice in 1995 for pulling a salesman on me and convincing me to do the Sun Kosi river trip, have my pack sent with the pickup bus and commence the trek from the end of the river. Changed my life.) Trekking snob is born!

Day 1 was short and hot. I stopped early. I was tired. But so happy to be the only trekker in a village of locals. Using my 20 words of Nepalese I secured a bed and food. Dal bhat. Rice. Lentils. Some veggie. Now that has been my food for 5 days. There is nothing else but tea, an occasional egg, and instant Wai wai soup masterfully blended with said veggies. Over and over. Tonight there might be a “menu”. I can’t wait.

As I mentioned, the kitchens are rustic, basically an open fire. The squat toilets make it a challenge with sore knee if you’re not locked and loaded so to speak. I’ve mastered the half squat. Desperate times.

Strangely, I don’t remember much of the trek from before (except for yesterday’s crushing uphill) and not surprisingly, the locals both can’t understand me nor do they care.

“I come here seventeen years ago.” “You trek seventeen days?” “No, i come HERE (with the accompanied finger pointing). “Seventeen hours from Tumlingtar?” Forget it. “Yes” I nod, and move on. No one really cares.

A day consists of a series of 25 min of walking and 5 of resting. For 6-8 hours. The heat hurts me (as do the hills) but with a full belly of Dal bhat I sail up the mountain (well not exactly) until I hit empty.

The trail is cut into ancient stone steps. Forcing you to pay attention or fall on your hands. If going downhill and you fall, it’s a trip ender for sure.

The majority so far are like this massive stair master soaring into the heavens! Making you pant, curse and be in ecstasy all at once. The hike times get shorter and the breaks longer as I get higher. Thank god for Biskoots (cookies or cracker) to get me over the jump. Exhausted and struggling to find the pass yesterday, a bag of biskoot, a few calming breaths, a look at the map, and common sense got me back on track. The old woman in the tea shack (likely my age) saved me with her Wai wai and a coke.

The day ends around 2 or three. Depending on what’s in front of me as the villages are anywhere from 30 min to three hours apart. Caught between them is a no no.

My night consists of a little journaling. Some Advil. A Percocet. Dal bhat and usually an extremely hard sleeping surface. I can safely say my body feels better than last time (lighter pack. Better mental preparation?) Ask me tomorrow about that one.

So yesterday and today were the testers. High steep climb. High steep descent. If I wake up in one piece, I am rewarded with having to climb Surke La (that’s the good decision I referred to). I am in the town of Bung and was determined to hike a few more hours up to break it up. Stay at the monastery. Everyone was telling me 2-3 hours. It was hot. I was fried. There is wifi. Likely beer. My first real town. I’ve stayed here before. Last time (actually last two times) I shit in a pig pen. Progress. The other towns were simply a house and store and kitchen. And ive had no real contact with outside world. It’s market day here. Should be interesting.

My goal is Namche Bazaar. Retool. Reset. Check weather. Check body. If all good race up the Everest valley. Gokyo Ri the second goal. But winter is coming …..

Kathmandu Part II

Once the emotional component wore off here, so did a little of the allure. I spent five days or so with Sagar’s family, enjoying his father’s amazing dal baht, playing with his adorable daughter and exploring local temples and some big ones too. Plus seeing some of the earthquake damaged Durbar square.

Unfortunately, during a day hike, we saw a young man dead by the river. I guess it was a selfie gone wrong. We left just as his distraught mother arrived. So sad.

It has been 19 years since I’ve been here during high season. Geez. What a zoo! I have spent more time in a taxi in five days than the rest of my trip combined. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. But worth it.

After moving to a hotel today to hook up with a Humboldt friend and ready myself for my trek, I got to spend some more time walking around. At first, I was like, there aren’t any dudes selling cheap street stuff like Tiger Balm every five feet. After awhile I saw a few but it seems they have let less folks into Thamel to sell stuff on the street. Thamel is sanitized. Gone is the feeling of being in backpacker central. Now it’s a shopping destination. Remember I said 5000 shops. Adjust it up again. And I haven’t seen the Israeli mobs. Maybe they are rafting and trekking. Mainly an older clientele it seems. Not as old as Bhutan. But slightly more well-heeled dare I say.

I went into my favorite pizza place that has been here since 1995. Fire and Ice. Basically every meal between treks was me gorging myself on a mushroom pizza. Today I decided to do it before the trek.

At 3 PM it was PACKED with people. Many Chinese. It turns out there is a direct flight from Guangzhou now (my friends are on it tonight) and who knows from where else in China. It’s safe to say most Chinese I saw aren’t trekking or rafting. It seems this is a destination to spend their (more than they need) money.

That’s the impression I get from people I have spoken with. All of sudden (well using 1995 as a baseline) the Chinese have cash and don’t know what to do with it. Travel and show people they have gobs of it. Whatever gaudy shit Americans flaunt when traveling ? Well you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I was sitting in Fire and Ice and noticed a guy in a black shirt. Likely a manager. It was one of those time warp moments of seeing someone you know much older than when you met them. I asked the waiter, “how long has that guy worked here?” Since the beginning. 1995.

Damn. I remembered him as one of the young boys i used to chat with after ordering my usual Margerita pizza with Funghi. In fact, he might have even been the kid I gave my Telluride Wild Mushroom t shirt to when I left in 1995 because he loved it.

I introduced myself, told him I’ve come many times over the years, and had become friends with the Italian owner Anna Maria. And I remembered him.

As I looked into his eyes, there was this ever so slight twinkle, then it was gone. His eyes turned black again. His boyishness beat down by 22 years of restaurant work in Kathmandu dealing with tourists and protests and pollution. Who knows? But he really seemed to not give a shit that I remembered him. Maybe it happened every day. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe it’s not all about me. Haha.

I have searched far and wide to try and replace my failing hat. I cursed myself for both not buying two in Bhutan five years ago and missing the town where the shop was this trip in Bhutan. Mine was made in Kathmandu coincidentally and Chhimi assured me i would find one here. Chhimi!!!

Well, there are hats here. And there are hats that are kinda close. But if you’ve seen my now beaten down repaired in Guatemala too small for my head and ripped on top hat, well, you don’t just replace it with just any hat.

I’ve somehow not lost this one and it’s gonna make it on this trek with me. However, I’m not just buying any old hat. I mean, I’ve had maybe 7? In my life that I have become attached to? The Billabong ball cap that made it almost my whole first year of traveling in 1995 (while my hair went from zero to 60 in 9 months. Yeah. Ponytail) after I bought it in OZ, was ripped apart, ate and shat out by Namche and one of her San Fran playmates 1997.

I had this epic leather one from Peru that was just the shit and it got moldy when I stored it outside my house in Humboldt. I washed it and brilliantly hung it over the fireplace “just for a minute” to dry. Well you all know I get distracted easily. Shrunken head might be the best description of what it looked like. I found it’s replacement ( I bought THAT one in 2002!) in 2012 in Bhutan. Hats don’t come easily. The man makes the hat? Nope. Not always. Wish me luck.

Thamel is cool. But it’s like a gated community now. Tuk tuks and most motorized vehicles can’t come in. Less dogs (we will see tonight), less aggressive selling. It’s still a cool place. But I challenged my San Fran friend Donald years ago to name me ONE place that is better now than when he first visited. He couldn’t.

The fact is, in my experience, normally with growth and progress, people on the fringes are pushed out. And normally that’s where I’ve found the charm.

Kathmandu! First impressions

So the backstory is i visited Kathmandu towards the tail end of a year long adventure in 1995. Quite the highlight of my year. Three months. Trekking. Whitewater rafting. Drinking.

In 1998 I returned and my buddy Gary (a Canadian whitewater guide I met in 1995) introduced me to the family of Sunil, Bishnu, Sagar, Sabina and Korfina.

I spent many days with them in 1998, 2000 and most recently in 2006. So it’s been ten years. Our relationship has continued and my first goal was spending time with them. I arrived a few days ago. I am staying wth them a ten minute walk from Thamel. The irony is Sagar, Sabina, and Korfina are all living and working in other countries to make life work. But Sagar’s wife and two year old daughter are here.

Kathmandu continues to feel like a shit hole when you arrive. This might have been the first time I had a clear day landing. Even my first time here I was like WTF? Gross. But as you’ll see the place grows on you. And it changes you.

The population has exploded. Introduction of antibiotics years ago, lack of family planning, and migration to cities for jobs has Kathmandu being like the Mexico City of Nepal. But smaller scale. Nestled between soaring peaks at about 4500 feet, the pollution becomes apparent as you drop down from 35000 feet into the bowl. Whoa. I was warned.

It seems every single street is broken down except for the ones in the tourist area, Thamel, and the big ring road. It also seems like every single person now owns a moto, wears a mask when driving and, quite honestly, think walking would be a more efficient method of getting around. The traffic without any traffic lights (that I’ve seen) is like motocross on steroids. I mean I have NEVER seen that many motorcycles. Even in Beijing but that was 22 years ago.

I said back in 1995 never trust an overweight Nepali or one who wore jeans. Haha. Well, not too many overweight ones but jeans and smart phones and motos are ubiquitous (there’s that word again) and normally all three are combined.

The normal conservative dress down culture is gone. For the most part. Still there are men in traditional clothes and hats and women in saris. Now add to that stretchy pants, tons of makeup and new hair styles. Leather jackets.

I still think the Nepali people are the most visually stunning in the world and definitely the most friendly. From maybe 12-15 years old to around 40, they are striking. A mix of Indian, Tibetan, Chinese. All very different. Add in the sometimes jet black hair and high cheekbones and there are both men and women that are runway worthy. They rarely grey or lose their hair. And as they age they just become more regal. Get to 60 here and life makes you stunning again.

Namaste with hands pressed together. I salute the god in you. Incredible.

It’s mainly a subsistence economy here. Lots of corruption and bullshit. Tourism is massive as you can expect. Trekking and rafting and homestays. It keeps the economy afloat. The earthquake in 2015 broke my heart as I was helpless to do much but it didn’t break the spirit of these deeply spiritual people. Temples on every corner.

Walking through Thamel was like walking back in time for me. My old hotel, Hotel The Earth, has been closed for ten years but other mainstays are still here. The Kathmandu Guest house. Yin Yang restaurant. Ultimate Descents rafting though the owner died years ago. Fire and Ice Pizza. I am still expecting to just run into an old raft guide buddy, someone I bought hash from or an aging Sadhu that hung rocks from his dick. Yes. It used to happen.

In 1950, around the time Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay started dreaming of climbing Everest, the population stood at about 100,000.

Today it’s over 2 million for the valley. Go outside of the Thamel playland and it blows you away. The twisting turning roads of Thamel are just so cool still. I told Pandora there was probably 5000 shops here today when we spoke. Then I revised it down to 1000. I’m revising back up. You can get ANYTHING you want from the Himalaya regions here. Anything. And most people do. I could buy ten buddhas, ten tapestries, ten thankas. I mean the stuff is all gorgeous. The incense. The burning wood. The sewage. The fumes. You just can’t beat the place. Even though its idyllic veneer fails to address the massive inequality, poverty, child trafficking, drug trade (hash doesn’t count but for the record I don’t smoke anymore!) and dramatic environmental devastation (Sir Edmund Hillary said before he died he regretted building the airport in the Everest Region) that comes with both tourist consumption as well as the consumption associated with pleasing and carting said tourists and their shit up Everest and other trekking peaks. Yes. I’m a trekking snob. Big time. And I’m gonna carry my own shit up here by myself until I can’t carry it anymore. Or they carry me out. But I contribute to it just being here.

Google Maps sucks here. They can’t keep up with twisting turning roads (and likely some user error) and I kept failing trying to find where to get my trekking permit. So I succumbed to a rickshaw ride to get there. Yep. They are still here. Not the most crowded shot but you get it.

So i went ahead and said it. I’m going to trek to the Khumbu from Tumlingtar to Namche Bazaar (at least) on trails and through villages I’ve been many years before. More on that later but my heart is swelling with happiness to be able to do this. It just means so much to me. I’m not sure if I even realized it.

For the record I don’t need permits for my route. No one goes that route for some reason. Exactly.

My heart is so full and so emotional for this place finally. This place and these people have had such a profound influence on my life it’s hard to describe.

And i am so happy to be here.

Goodbye Bhutan! Some last thoughts

Bhutan is amazing. And unique. If you wanna go, let me know and I will hook you up. Won’t be free. But it will be good.

I feel as though I had the whole country as my personal playland. Every time I changed hotels, buses or cities, someone was looking out for the stray Chilip (tourist) and making sure I got where I was going.

Getting to spend so much time with Chhimi, his wife Seday, her parents (Ama and Apa), and their three wonderful kids, (along with most of Chhimi’s family), was quite a treat. It felt like home. Easy. Drama free. Fun. Safe. Wonderful.

Seeing how Buddhism is integrated into most of their lives (I mean no shit there is a temple in EVERY town!) is quite astonishing and comforting. It’s watching a traditional culture grow up right before your eyes, while they (hopefully) take into account the mistakes many cultures make.

Now it’s not perfect. There are blemishes. It’s free market. People see and want more. Especially in the city. Who knows? Maybe in 20 years they will morph into little America? Haha.

I will say that they are asking the right questions. As long as they don’t (and I doubt they will) open up investment to other countries (meaning buying up property), they will fight it out amongst themselves. It’s the one MASSIVE mistake communities and countries make. Letting outsiders buy property. If you live and work there. Fine. If the community needs investment to survive? Maybe. With limits.

But every single community in the US (certainly the beautiful ones) have made the mistake of letting investors and massive amounts of second homes drive up costs and drive out regular folks. I’m not saying the second home owners or investors are horrible people. I’m saying it happens. Over and over. And people in the margins that don’t own property get screwed or are pushed out. You make up your own mind. Don’t pretend it’s not happening. Ask yourself.

I had a great trip and looking forward to returning. I feel comfortable here but only as a tourist. Wish i could have my camper here and just cruise around. Chhimi being here made the trip. His family. Friends. People he knows. I am so fortunate and wish everyone could do it this way. Even got a traditional hot stone bath tonight! And man. The chilis! Ara! Druk 11000. Suja. I could do without the Doma.

Painful to watch the news from Texas and our local election. Can we just have a real conversation and not the name calling? Guess what? The founding fathers didn’t dream about semi automatic weapons and an armed 300 million people. They didn’t. I don’t want to take your guns. I also don’t want to carry one. Can we talk about it and stop thinking the extreme will happen? Can we also focus on mental health? And a healthy interdependent society? I WANT different opinions. Real ones. Not bullshit. But man. Can we just have a real conversation that is not so self interested and paranoid that we shout each other out? I remember when i could have a beer with my conservative friends and at least talk about it. Now? I am not missing America right now. Just the woman i love and family and friends. The bullshit is sickening. Truly.

Off to Kathmandu and another land I love tomorrow. My love to all the Bhutanese. What a place! Maybe the Snowman Trek next time. Right Chhimi?

Kuzudzongbola!

The Khenpo and I. 5 days. 30 monks. 1 guitar.

Well not exactly. The Khenpo and I. Yes. Tecnichally today is the 4th day and 30 monks is an estimate. I mean who can keep track of these guys? They are everywhere! They come. They go. They are in Puja. They are cooking. They are debating. 1 guitar? Well if you don’t count the musical contraption the Khenpo has.

I have been so lucky to spend (nearly) five days here at Nalinda or Dali Goempa as it is called both.

I visited here five years ago and connected with the (now sort of retired) Khenpo. Khenpo means a lot of things but to me it means a super evolved Buddhist teacher. You can see our pictures from five years ago and now here.

The Khenpo is a cousin to Chhimis wife Seday. While other tourists came and went, I got to sleep here. Eat here. Hike here.

The Khenpo is about my age and just such a cool guy. His English is pretty good, he is funny and quite the loving charismatic guy. We have a great connection and similar world view. And he is, well, a monk!

I also brought my guitar. I’ve never traveled here in Asia with a guitar. Now those of you that know me know I’ve been playing for a few years and by no means think I am any sort of real musician. I like playing. I can play alone. It makes me happy.

However, having a guitar at a monastery is like having beer after a hard day of construction. People think either a. You invented the beer or b. It’s the best beer they have ever tasted.

The first day the Khenpo asked me to play a song. Later that night I sat in on English class as a request. They asked me questions for 30 minutes. Then they asked me about my guitar. I begged off but the monk English teacher said he would get it and my harmonica holder from my room. Of course the first song they wanted was from One Direction. Umm. No. I don’t play that.

Well if you can imagine 30 or so monks singing the chorus to 4 non-blondes “What’s up?”, you can imagine the smile on my face. It goes ” I said hey yeah yeah yeah I said hey yeah yeah, I said hey, what’s goin’ on?” All in unison. Yep.

Finally they said “sir, can you play one more song? A sad one?” Well yes. I played The Ghost of Tom Joad. By Springsteen. One monk came up to me after and said “Sir, I felt the sadness.” Haha. No shit.

So my day began (not at my request) with the helpers making rice under my window over an open fire at 4:30 AM. The monks are performing a puja, have English class, and are super busy. Oddly the rice making is less invasive than the cacophony of dogs that sleep all day and wake up around 2 am to bark via call and response for about two hours. Like Chinese water torture, you think they have stopped, then continue again. Maybe now? No. Maybe now? No. Geez. Shut up! I nestled into my mattress on the floor (I doubled it. I’m soft) and cranked the loudest soft music I could find to attempt to drown it out. At 5 am came sleep.

For four days I was assigned a monk that basically babysat me. First came Sikkim (his nickname), an aspiring rap singer. He also made me food.

I would have breakfast with the Khenpo. The first day he mentioned about Donald Trump’s son being indicted. Since I have gone dark for almost five days (as of this draft), I still don’t know what happened and still don’t know who won the World Series!

After breakfast, first Sikkim, then Gyem, took me hiking. I donned my full trekking pack as yes I have a dream for my next country. 4 days of hiking to villages for temples, archery, and yes guitar.

Gyem had me for three days. On day two he insisted on carrying our lunch. I wanted some weight. He said bring your guitar. We hiked all the way up to a village a few hours above us. At our lunch stop he asked if I could play a song he could sing? Sure. What song? One Direction. WTF? I pulled it up on my phone to learn the chords. Imagine a monk singing about other guys wanting his girl while i butchered the chords. No, the irony was not lost on me.

The highlight (so far) was me being invited to watch part of the puja. Chhimi suggested I bring gum for the monks. So as you see the pictures and/or video imagine me passing out gum right as they start to beat the drums just as I am bending over with the gum. It scared the shit out of me! I almost shit myself!

Every night I got to have dinner with the Khenpo and Sikkim and Gyem.

Spending time around people with unending love and kindness is quite special. Being able to connect with these folks, young and old, has been amazing. So real. So friendly. Not wanting anything but real connection. And laughs. Even the 8 year old Rinpoche, or reincarnated lama. I fell in love with his energy.

I lived pretty simply while here. Got to be outdoors. Learned so much about how they lived without focusing on their teachings per se. Got to play guitar in the afternoon while tour groups came through. You’re STAYING here? Yep.

I’m both happy and sad to leave. Knowing I really enjoyed myself and connected with these folks that do so much with so little. Time was short. Yet knowing i could never fit in in the long run.

Even if I learned a One Direction song…..

The Bhutanese want to rule the world!

Haha. Just kidding. But I will say some or most of their ideas may help save the world. Renewable energy, sustainable development, responsible tourism and, through Buddhism, a belief we are all interconnected. Now if they can just lay off the rice a little bit…

I completed my journey on the shittiest road on the planet. Bhutan is turning their one lane road from west to east into a two lane road. The interim step is basically a one lane road, dirt, meandering thru mountains and over a dozen passes higher than say 13000 feet. No small task. I’m gonna say from Thimphu, the largest city, to Samdrup where I crossed from India, is like 475 miles. It took me 40 hours, all in bus or shared taxi. Except for the last 4 hours with Chhimi and his family. Do the math. Chhimi says it will be done next year. Those Buddhists! Positive thinking!

The amazing thing about their society is they make a conscious effort to utilize the good in the world and try to shield the communities from the bad.

Now, let me explain how this utopian approach is the perfect storm. They’ve only had TV since 1999, they have the ultimate consumer in India as a neighbor to buy their green energy and stimulate the economy, and they wisely implemented high value/low impact tourism. The goal being to bring money into the country while preserving their cultural uniqueness. It also keeps dirty broke backpackers from laying around here forever. If you’ve ever experienced that type of travel, it’s fun, interesting, and never dull. But it can get old and rot communities. Imagine 200 Israeli backpackers, fresh out of the military, creating a little Jerusalem in Goa India (or Lake Atitlan in Guatemala for that matter), setting up shop for months to scrounge on 10 bucks a day. Not picking on them, but you’ve all met a group like them or from another country that move in and screw up the economics. I digress. Sorry.

So I wish I had longer in the east as I loved it and WAS THE ONLY TOURIST! So great. Even the sore butt from sitting.

Chhimi and his family picked me up in Phobjigan, an isolated Hamlet with rolling hills and the winter home of the endangered black neck cranes. Saw an injured one in captivity. Beautiful animals. There are also Himalayan bears, yaks, and leopards.

We stayed in another nice hotel as again, they are creating this model of comfy tourism around cultural uniqueness. Then we had a home cooked meal at one of the homestays.

So Bhutan is taking an active stance of spreading the wealth and redirecting the pipe of money to create sustainable development in rural communities. What. A. Concept. You mean Jeffrey Bezos isn’t creating a supply chain model to have cheap rice delivered by drone there? No.

And that is perhaps the single most important point in this whole rant during my travels here. Buddhism believes in the interdependent nature of all beings. You hurt. I hurt. You thrive I thrive. There is a WE surrounding ME. Essentially. And it is the prism, the undercurrent from which all their thoughts and actions arise. I thank my girlfriend Pandora for helping me come to that conclusion today while discussing this.

More importantly, even though they have an open and free economy, from the top down it’s “hey, how do we all thrive and what programs can we put in place to give EVERYONE a chance.” Collectively.

That of course is the exact opposite mentality of many Americans. In particular the orange man in the White House. His “I’m gonna take daddy’s money and parlay it into way more through bullying, lawyering and overall self promotion and bullshit. I win. You lose. Always. AND I’m gonna do my best to constantly show off my gaudy unnecessary shit while i only play nice with people that share MY goal. Which is to make me look better and feed my massive ego to likely overcompensate for my small… soul.”

You may have voted for him. And I’m not gonna not be your friend because you still support him. But if you did and do, your brain and soul are both in question. The man embodies every single thing I

struggle with as an American. You may say “screw you Bob, go live somewhere else or try to affect change.” Well I have tried and just because I can honestly critique my country and myself (because I am in no way above and beyond reproach), does not make me unpatriotic or whatever other stupid classification one may throw on me for pointing out our completely fucked up culture and whacked out priorities. And our willful ignorance when they are presented to us. Rant completed.

Back to Buddhism. The King abdicated his power to create a Democracy about ten years ago. Imagine that. You can believe in free markets, being rich or having a lot. But if you don’t believe we ALL benefit by a healthy complete total community, a healthy environment and a just world, and work in some small way every day to move our collective consciousness in that direction, in any way YOU see fit, not me. Well. You’re your own judge. I’m just asking the questions. Kadrin chey

My two monks

I got a taxi to the “Swiss Guest House.” It’s been there for a long time. Not sure how long. As i walked up to the front a Bhutanese woman came out and greeted me. Kuzudzongpola i said. Yeah. It’s a tough greeting. But after awhile it just rolls off your tongue. The lazier you are with it, the more respect you get it seems.

I asked her where the trail started for Petsoling monastery. She said “follow me. And that is Tiger and Lily. They know the way and will follow you.” The collared lab/shepherd/rottie mixes and I headed off.

I had decided to do a nice hike to gauge my strength and my knee as I am dreaming of a big Nepal trek next month. The book said a 2600 foot climb. I’m already at right around 10000 feet. Alrighty. And a monastery up top!?! I packed a 20 or so pound pack to give me a little weight. Let’s go.

Well Tiger and Lily knew the way, but they weren’t very vocal when i went the wrong way. I was rocking it. Knocking it out faster than I thought when a few “options” came my way. Hmmm. I’ll go this way. They followed. I came across a not so good English speaking local. Which way? He says right. Motioning with his left hand. Then go left of the mani wall. Motioning with his right hand. Hmm. Not confident at this point. I took off. As I got higher the brush got thicker. Should I turn back? Nah. Just bushwhack. I mean, I saw kinda where it was. Oh man. A solid hour of me hiking thru the densest Amazon like forest. As steep as a step ladder. Thick deep soft earth. Running into impossible thickets. The dogs frolicking and taking advantage of their low center of gravity. I gotta take a break. Clouds coming in. I mean it’s RIGHT THERE!

A small feeling of panic set in. I am glad there are no thorns or poison oak. I’m getting tired. This is hard work. Dogs chasing some beast in the bush. I break right. See a little less brush up ahead and burst onto the trail. A stone stupa in my sights. Damn. I gotta get a ride down. There is a road up there I heard. I’m wrecked.

As I approached the monastery, a few young monks waved. I motioned which way.? They directed me. I arrived with my pack of animals in tow. I poked around. Put on my pullover all the while noticing the protective nature of my two furry friends. I mean they had never left me but certainly hadn’t corrected my mistakes. All of a sudden they jump to attention. Become really focused on me and warded off the monastery dogs as they looked to challenge and harass me. It was amazing. It was like instant bonding. They drew close. Literally attaching themselves to my side and trading off. I found later they are brother and sister.

We move around the monastery to where all the young monks are playing. I come up and they of course engage me. The English speaking ones asking questions. They ask me if I want to play. Motioning to this dart like object with a thick handle. Kind of like a big dandelion weeder/dart. The boy says “hit post.” I’m like a good forty feet away, being watched by 20 some monks and all the while thinking “the national pastime is ARCHERY! I feel pressure!” A few older monks peek out from the building above the field to watch.

I wind up like I’m throwing a baseball and let it fly. Whack! Dead center. I’m not sure who was more surprised. I’m like, yeah. No big deal. Had I hit the second one they might have really been impressed. I should have walked away.

I told my sad story of being lost, all the while the monks are feeding the dogs and laughing in the flirtatious ways monks do. From maybe 5 yrs old to 20?

After a while the oldest and best English speaking monk says he will show you the way down motioning to one monk. He has to go to town to get his tooth pulled. But he can’t speak English.

Let’s do it!

I’m thinking back to my first monk interaction in China 22 years ago and taking some pics and chatting. While waiting the older monk says. “Now you have two” as another young monk saunters over. AND he speaks English. He’s sick too.

So we start down the trail, dogs in tow and started chatting. This is EXACTLY why I’m traveling solo. I get to connect with these young monks both verbally and non verbally, hear their life stories (one is a dancer and one a singer) and have a good laugh for 90 minutes.

We stopped halfway down, the dogs nuzzled up to me as if they were mine and the English speaking monk says he never spoken at length with any tourist as they are in a group. Man. I was so lucky. The boy says “did you see bear on your way up?” What? “Yes. Small Himalayan bear here.” Maybe THAT’S what they were chasing!

We continued on. Saw where I missed the turn and rolled into the Swiss Guest House just as it got dark. I told them how awesome their dogs were in spite of them letting me wander, had tea and cookies and got a taxi into town. With the monks. We capped the night off with a plate of momos at a local haunt. Yep. That’s why I’m here. Rescued by monks. Hope the pictures attach. If not i will post to FB next. Get to finally see Chhimi and his family tomorrow!